How NOT to approach an artist

After reading the blog post “How to Start a Fine Art Collection” on Invaluable’s blog, I’ve been thinking about all the crazy ways collectors have approached me. You might be surprised at some of the questions I’ve been asked and statements I’ve been obliged to respond to while my work is on display at a festival or open studio event:

“When are you going to start painting in oils?”
“Why should I buy this when I can just take a photograph of the same thing?”
“Why does this cost so much?”
“What’s your best price for this–can you give me a discount?”
“How about if you sell this to me without the frame, can you discount it for that?”
“If I buy this, will you re-frame it for me?”
“Why did you think this picture might sell?”
“Are these the original drawings?” (While pointing at printed note cards)
“How big of a drawing can you do for $100?”
“What’s the cheapest original you have for sale?”
“You should consider working abstractly.”
“You did this from a coloring book!”(While pointing to a drawing and the step-by-step booklet that I wrote as I drew it.)
“You just xeroxed a photograph and colored it in.”
“You must have very good pencils.”
“Is it okay if I take a photo of this drawing as long as I leave your signature out of it?”
“Can I take a photo of this drawing and have T-shirts printed from it?”
“My daughter likes to paint–can you come to our house and give her lessons?”

And some of the inquiries I’ve received via email through my website:

“Can you send me a list of all your available work, with sizes and prices?”
“Can you send me the artwork and if I like it I’ll keep it and pay you?”
“Let me know if you ever do a picture of X.” (Where X is a particular animal, flower, scene, person.)

Granted, most of these folks were members of the general public, not art collectors, so they could be somewhat excused for their brashness and/or naivete.  But a couple of them were art collectors, so I expected better from them.  Here’s a rundown of my responses to all these.  Some of them I did actually say at the time.  For others, I was so taken aback that I didn’t think of a good response until long after the person had gone.

“When are you going to start painting in oils?”
(The implication is that drawing must only be a stepping stone to oil painting.)  I’ve painted in oils and was decent at it, and I’ve also had success with many other media, but I came back to colored pencil because I like it best.

“Why should I buy this when I can just take a photograph of the same thing?”
Because my artwork is better than a photograph–it’s my vision of the scene.

“Why does this cost so much?”
Because quality work isn’t cheap.  My work is meticulous and very time-consuming to make, sometimes as much as 100 hours, and usually includes the framing under museum glass or museum acrylic. Even at this price, I make well under minimum wage for it.

“What’s your best price for this–can you give me a discount?”
I’m not Walmart.  The price is the price.

“How about if you sell this to me without the frame, can you discount it for that?”
I carefully chose the mat, frame and glass to tastefully complement the piece, and included it in the price.  If you buy it, you can re-frame it as you like.

“If I buy this, will you re-frame it for me?”
I’m not a framer.  If you buy it, you can have a frame shop frame it as you like.

“Why did you think this picture might sell?”
(This question was asked by a collector.)  I didn’t draw this for you, I drew it for me.  If it speaks to someone else enough for them to want to own it, I’m thrilled, but I’m also fine enjoying it on my own walls.

“Are these the original drawings?” (While pointing at printed note cards)
No, they were made from the original drawings by a printer.  You didn’t really think I’d make ultra-detailed original drawings on 5×7 cards and sell them for $4, did you?

“How big of a drawing can you do for $100?”
I’m probably not the right artist for you to talk to.  If you have a photo reference, size and medium in mind I can give you a price estimate, but not the other way around.

“What’s the cheapest original you have for sale?”
If you’re asking me that, you’re talking to the wrong artist. I don’t create my work just to sell it cheap.

“You should consider working abstractly.”
(This odd statement was made by a collector.)  I’m a realist, so I’m not really interested in working abstractly.  Do you have any idea how many abstract painters have told me they work abstractly because they can’t draw?

“You did this from a coloring book!” (While pointing to a drawing and the step-by-step booklet that I wrote as I drew it.)
I don’t do coloring books.  I wrote that booklet, and it’s not a coloring book, it’s a step-by-step drawing lesson.

“You just xeroxed a photograph and colored it in.”
No I didn’t.  No printer or copier has been anywhere near my drawing paper.  I draw basic, faint outlines first just like any other artist.

“You must have very good pencils.”
I do, but it takes more than that to make a work of art, just as it takes more than good pans to make a gourmet meal.

“Is it okay if I take a photo of this drawing as long as I leave your signature out of it?”
Absolutely not!  That would be even worse than taking a photo of it with my signature in it, which I also don’t want you to do because as soon as you share it I’ve lost control of my own artwork.

“Can I take a photo of this drawing and have T-shirts printed from it?”
Absolutely not!  Why should you get all the profit from my creation?

“My daughter likes to paint–can you come to our house and give her lessons?”
That’s wonderful that your daughter likes to paint, and good for you for encouraging her.  But you’ll notice that I’m not a painter, I draw.  The mediums are very different.  And I’m not a childrens’ art teacher.

“Can you send me a list of all your available work, with sizes and prices?”
All this information is already on  my website.  If you see a piece you like on one of the gallery pages, just click on it to get its full information.  I’m an artist, not a retail catalog.

“Can you send me the artwork and if I like it I’ll keep it and pay you?”
Absolutely not!  I’m not stupid.

“Let me know if you ever do a picture of X.” (Where X is a particular animal, flower, scene, person.)
You’re welcome to join my website mailing list to be notified of all new artworks as soon as they’re available, or commission me to do a picture of X just for you, but I can’t maintain wishlists.

“CP Treasures, Vol. IV” is out!

CP Treasures, Colored Pencil Masterworks from around the Globe, Vol. IV has just been published, and I’m thrilled to be included in it!  My Tree of Kintsugi has a whole page.  120 artists from all over the world are represented, countries as diverse as Israel, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Africa, Greece, New Zealand, Australia, and of course the USA.  Click on the image below to see more details about the book, including a video preview!

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“You should work abstractly”

During one of my Silicon Valley Open Studio weekends, a tall, well-dressed man arrived, looked at all my work, and then said “Your skills and your color sense are very strong.  Have you considered working abstractly?”  I replied “I’m a realist, so no, I’m not really interested in working abstractly.”  He went on to urge me to consider abstraction, although he didn’t really explain why other than the “strong color sense”, or what kind of abstraction he had in mind.  I politely thanked him for his feedback, and he left.

It seemed like such an odd suggestion!  I related it to my husband and he joked that I should’ve told the man “For $5000 I’d be more than happy to draw some squiggles for you.”  Later in the day as I thought  more about the exchange, I thought of another response:  “Do you have any idea how many painters I know who have told me the reason they paint abstractly is because they can’t draw?”

I’m still pondering the conversation weeks later.  With so many artists already working abstractly, why would someone suggest that a realist change their entire way of interpreting the world?  Are there abstract artists out there who are being told they should try working realistically?  Was he simply testing my commitment to my style?  Did it occur to him that at some point in my art experience I probably had already experimented with abstraction since it was favored over realism in art schools during the 1970s and early 1980s?  Was he biased toward abstraction and only happened to visit my studio by chance rather than by choice?

I’ll never know the answers to these questions.  But there’s no question about whether I’ll remain a realist.  A realist who looks for and portrays abstractions in the world around me, something I already do all the time.  Because the world, both natural and man-made, is full of incredible shapes, textures and colors.  If I do anything that looks abstract, it’s going to be because I found it by looking at a scene differently than others might have, not because I went out of my way to “work abstractly”.

Featured Artist in Ann Kullberg’s COLOR magazine

I am thrilled to pieces to be the featured artist in the May 2016 issue of Ann Kullberg’s COLOR magazine!  The eight-page article talks about my background, aspirations, and some of my favorite drawing materials, and includes several images of my work.  And just look at my Don’t Take the Bridge on the cover!  Click on the image to order a copy from the publisher; the page also includes a video preview of the issue.

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My thoughts on the coloring-book craze

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A rack of adult coloring books at a local arts and crafts store. Just the front side!

Over the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed the huge influx of “adult coloring books” in bookstores, art supply stores, and even supermarket magazine racks.  The books’  linear designs range from simple garden flowers to incredibly intricate mandala patterns.  This type of “coloring” has been noted for a calming, soothing, therapeutic effect, somewhat like meditation or knitting.  It has caught on in rehab facilities and senior centers.

Adult coloring books are still growing in popularity, so sales of markers and colored pencils have skyrocketed, and some artists have successfully self-published their own coloring books.  There is even a new brand of colored pencils made in China and marketed to the coloring-book crowd as much cheaper than the better-known brands, albeit lower in quality.  Since I have published free swatch charts for many popular brands on my website, someone asked if I’m planning to publish one for this new brand, too.  (No, and I’m not going to name the brand here.)

As an artist whose primary medium is colored pencil, I have mixed feelings about this fad.  On the one hand, it’s great to see so many people (re)discovering colored pencils, and hopefully they’ll be inspired to take the next step to learn how to create their own original drawings and master the medium.  On the other hand, it’s also leading to an impression that colored pencils aren’t a fine art medium, they’re for very casual hobbyists.  And that’s an impression that the Colored Pencil Society of America has worked hard since 1990 to dispel, so it feels like a giant step backward.

Recently, Time magazine published an article “How coloring inside the lines came into fashion” which examined these impressions.  Today, I was glad to read the CPSA’s response to it.

I personally have been told “Oh, you should make a coloring book!” and I take that as a compliment about how interesting my subjects are and how easily they might translate into linear outlines.

But on a Facebook group for colored pencil artists I have read accounts of fellow artists being asked about their original work “What coloring book is this from?” and the questioner not being able to grasp that it was not from a coloring book.  I think if this was asked of me I’d have a hard time responding without curse words!  I can see how this confusion might arise, since some people who color in pages from a coloring book post them to social media with the idea that it’s now “art”.  It’s not.  There’s an important distinction: all art is artwork, but not all artwork is art.

The latest ridiculousness resulting from this fad is a report of a community college offering a five-day “Coloring Book Technique” workshop, for which people pay $130 and bring their own coloring books and colored pencils.  Really?  Since when do we have to be taught how to color in coloring books?  Every seven-year-old knows how to do this.

So on balance, although I recognize the value of adult coloring books as therapy and for relaxation, so far I’m not happy about what it’s doing for serious artists who work with colored pencil.  For any such artist, I recommend that if someone asks what kind of art you do, don’t say “I do colored pencil drawings” or they’ll likely assume you mean you color in coloring books.  Instead, try simply saying “I work mainly in colored pencil”.  The subtle difference in wording may trigger a better mental image.

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The back side of the same rack.

Making time to make art

As I’ve mentioned in at least one previous blog post, I work full-time as a software engineer in Silicon Valley but art is not my “hobby”–I consider it my other career.  I had to scale way back on some other time-consuming activities I enjoy in order to make this possible.  However, you don’t need to do this in order to make some time for art in your own life!  Here are a few suggestions I have for how to work art creation into your busy schedule.

  1. Set up a small area in your home as a dedicated “art space”, where your drawing board, chair and supplies are always ready.  They will be right there inviting you to sit down and play, and you won’t have to waste a single minute on setup or takedown.  This makes it so much easier to decide you have time!
  2. If you think you need at least three hours of uninterrupted time to merit starting, think again.  Sure, we’d all like to have that luxury, but you can make a lot of progress by accumulating much shorter time increments.  Maybe today all you have time to do is select and print out your reference(s).  Maybe tomorrow all you have time to do is cut the paper.  Maybe the day after that all you have time to do is draw the basic outline.  That’s all progress!
  3. If you’re tired or don’t feel like drawing, tell yourself “just 30 minutes”.
  4. Divide and conquer. Some people like to work all over an image as they go, developing it as a whole.  And that’s fine, but it makes for a long wait before you finally start to see the finish line.  Depending upon your temperament, you might lose patience or interest before you get far enough along to see it take shape.  So an alternative is to fully complete one small area at a time.  If your subject is a bunch of grapes, focus on just one or two grapes until they look finished (you can always come back later for finishing, unifying touches).
  5. Keep the colors you have used so far on a drawing out from the rest of the set until you’ve finished the drawing, so you don’t have to remember them to proceed with the next section.
  6. Only work on one drawing at a time.  This doesn’t apply to painters who must wait for hours or days for layers of paint to dry, but for dry media you’ll have more work to show sooner if you focus on one at a time.
  7. Have the references for your next few pieces queued up.  If you’re like me, it can take days to decide what to work on next–a big time suck!  By choosing in advance, you can launch right into the next one as soon as your finished with the previous one.  If you change your mind later, that’s fine, but at least you have a plan.
  8. Work small.  You’ll finish sooner by working smaller.  If you’re still learning techniques, you’ll learn more and faster by trying something small and moving on, rather than trying to struggle your way through a larger, long-term piece.  This is the philosophy behind the painting-a-day-for-30-days challenge.

I hope this helps you fit a little bit of art-making into your life!

Know what your framer is doing: a horror story

Here is a horror story worthy of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as told to me by the victim who lived it.

It took nearly a year for one of my CPSA chapter members to finish a drawing which she decided to enter in this year’s CPSA International Exhibition. (Her first time entering.) After spraying it with coats of workable Krylon fixative and final Lascaux fixative, she took it to a local privately-owned frame shop which was recommended by several artist friends. He told her he’s framed “thousands” of drawings, so she was sure it was in good hands.

For some reason, the framer chose to permanently heat-mount her drawing to foam board, as one might do with a photographic print. The heat reacted with the wax-based pigment, and possibly the layers of fixative. The drawing was covered with blisters which broke and flaked off!

But wait, there’s more! When he permanently adhered it to the foam board, he didn’t even use a large enough board to leave a margin around it for more flexible framing options–the board was the same size as the drawing.  And then he taped it to the back of a window mat, with the drawing barely covering the opening!

To top it all off, before she got to the shop to see this butchery, the framer took it on himself to “repair” a section of the drawing with oil pastels!  Oil pastels are not compatible with wax-based colored pencils, and of course nobody has any business “repairing” an artist’s work except the artist or a conservator (think of Smithsonian art restoration specialists).

Her artwork was completely destroyed. One has to wonder, WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

The framer apologized, didn’t charge her for framing, paid her the declared value of her drawing, and paid for her non-refundable CPSA IE entry fee (since she had already entered).

She brought the destroyed drawing to our CPSA chapter meeting to see if anyone had suggestions for how to save it. We were all aghast.  The best we could come up with was maybe solvent. The oil pastel probably already disqualified it for the IE anyway, but we suggested that if the piece is accepted she could relate the story to the national exhibitions director for a judgment call.

I think it’s important to share this story as a public service.  Make sure you know what your framer is doing.  Make sure you both agree on exactly what will be done with your artwork, before you leave your artwork in their hands.  Ask questions.  If he/she uses a term you don’t understand (e.g., “preservation fit”), don’t feel stupid, ASK.   It’s irrelevant whether you take your work to a large chain store like Aaron Brothers, or a privately-owned local shop that’s been in business for 30 years.

I’ve never felt the need to go over specs in great detail with my framers before, but after seeing and hearing this story directly from the victim, I certainly will from now on.